Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Selfishness is clever

There are at least two groups who play with Selfishness in a clever way, and those two groups are evolutionary psychologists and objectivists / Ayn Rand followers. I say it's clever because it's like playing with a set of math theorems and seeing what some consequences are, it's like trying to put together a puzzle with all the pieces being more or less the same yet different enough that you can't arbitrarily place them.

In evolutionary psychology, it's a given that genes are selfish, and our genes determine what we are and set the limits on who we can be. (The human brain is very malleable, so those limits aren't always clear in humans but they're nevertheless there.) So we look at human universals like altruism, a sense of justice, honor, trust, guilt, friendship, sympathy, suspicion and hypocrisy, and many of these things defy explanation if you can only think that "everyone is out for themselves."

The long-standing explanation for these traits is based in Kin Selection, which in a nutshell (I recommend reading the linked paper or Robert Wright's The Moral Animal) is the idea that kin have more or less the same genes, and when a gene arises that increases the likelihood of altruism (through yelling a warning cry when a predator is spotted for squirrels and possibly sacrificing itself, or through sharing a banana), the individuals most likely to benefit from that altruism are closely related and may have that gene as well. Hence the genes still propagate and are selected for; the benefits to an individual's kin who share the gene outweigh any individual loss from the altruism that might make that individual lose out in the gene pool normally. This doesn't mean that conscious altruism goes away, or that conscious minds are therefore automatically entirely selfish, just that at the gene level, which is all that matters to evolution, high-level altruism got there from a low-level selfish process. The mechanisms of an altruistic brain are altruistic: altruistic people will feel like they're being altruistic, others will call them altruistic, and for all intents and purposes they are altruistic. At the gene level this altruism is a selfish benefit for that person's (and likely their kin's) genes.

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A Fun, Dirty, Computer Engineering Comic

CE Comic

Horrible joke I know, and I suck at drawing, especially "anatomy". Computer Engineers have a trick to convert a bunch of resistors in a delta (triangle) formation to a Y (three prongs) formation and vice versa, and with that trick one can reduce the "hair circuit" shown (that some people apparently call a Christmas tree since it contains both a delta and a Y) to the nice single-resistor trim.

The "Christmas tree" appears in Giancoli, because usually Computer Engineers don't have to deal with it, and Giancoli's "solution" is to write down several equations of Kirchhoff current and voltage laws to reduce the circuit. Yuck! Here is the diagram, they want to know the equivalent resistance between points A and C.

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10 Random Facts

Cross posted from my dA account, here's some blog filler so I don't feel like I wrote nothing this month. Also this will add my word-count score.


I just tried to read the same thing six times and still didn't parse it, so instead of going to sleep I'm going to do this instead! Tagged by :iconTechnologic-Skies: here are Teh Rules:

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Quick CouchDB Fun

I'm a fan of the command line, so when I found out I could just use curl to mess with CouchDB instead of Futon I was happy. If you want to create a new document with views under some database, you can do this:

curl -d @t.json -u un:pw -H "Content-Type: application/json" -X PUT

This will take the contents of the file t.json (which is below) and send them off to CouchDB. It will create a new document called "rar" under the "sw" database. Here is t.json:

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Progressive Taxes

I used to be of the opinion that we should have flat taxes, either amount-wise or percentage-wise. That is, after all, the mathematically fair solution if you divide on total money taxed.

There are two obvious, killer problems with that, though. One, it severely hurts poor people. 50% of $1 is a lot more than 50% of $1000 if those two amounts are all two people have, but the cost of a loaf of bread is still 99 cents and so one person has to go hungry. The second problem, is that the government then doesn't have enough income to support itself unless the percentage is so high. (And as you raise the percentage, the poor suffer more and more.)

So the crafters of our tax laws realized these two problems, and they went a step further by introducing tax brackets. You pay 20% on all income under $X, but every dollar you make above $X, you might get taxed 30% until you hit $Y, and so on. Obviously someone with $1000 does not need $1 as much as someone who only has $2 and wants a gallon of milk, so the idea of the tax bracket again makes sense if you want to ease the suffering of the poor.

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Attacking Mere Employees Doing Their Jobs

"I quarrel not with far-off foes, but with those who, near at home, co-operate with, and do the bidding of, those far away, and without whom the latter would be harmless." ~Thoreau

In the post-war Nazi trials, soldiers would justify their horrible actions as just "following orders." Employees of big corporations do less horrible but still offensive actions and justify them by saying "I'm just doing my job." (Recent case in point: TSA Agent frisking a 6 year old girl.)

Through the Milgram experiment, psychology tells us that these people may even have a point. For whatever reasons, we evolved to respond differently to authority than we might under our own direction. Can we really blame these perpetrators for their actions when they're just victims of the same human malfunction we all have?

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A new favorite equation?

In my differential equations class, we noted the function:
[math]f(x) = e^{-x^2}[/math]

and how it looks really neat when plotted, but in a normal calculus course you'll probably be told that you can't integrate it. We then noted that:

[math]\int_{-\infty}^{\infty} e^{-x^2} dx = \sqrt{\pi}[/math]

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